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Live music is back, but Saskatchewan crowds not yet at pre-pandemic levels: Gord Bamford

Gord Bamford poses on the red carpet at the Canadian Country Music Awards in Calgary, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh. CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Life has seemingly returned to normal this summer in Saskatchewan. After two years of pandemic stops and starts, events and festivals are back in action.

Organizers and musicians in Saskatchewan are happy to be up and running again but say they aren’t yet seeing attendance rates jump back to pre-pandemic levels.

Recent Stats Canada numbers reveal that the arts and entertainment sector showed modest revenue increases in 2021.

It’s been a slower-than-expected return for the arts and entertainment industry as it looks to get back on track after some tough pandemic years.

Statistics Canada says that in 2021, for-profit performing arts saw an 11 per cent revenue increase.

“I think any level is good after the pandemic,” said Gord Bamford, an award-winning artist who has been performing at multiple stops across Saskatchewan over the last couple of months.

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“Just getting back to work is a good thing. We had a bit of a plan coming out of the pandemic to keep more events in the smaller communities and help them raise the dollars and work in smaller capacity, smaller shows.”

Read more: COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect Saskatchewan arts and entertainment industry

Bamford said that outdoor festivals are back this summer and while that’s good news, they’re not at full capacity — but they’re close and it’s a great start coming back out after a long hiatus.

“When you’re a musician, you’re not used to being home all the time and I don’t think my family used to have me a long time either,” he joked.

Gord Bamford performs during the Canadian Country Music Awards in Edmonton, on Sunday September 8, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.

Now in 2022 with people mostly ready to get back outside and into public spaces, inflation has some second-guessing where their money will be spent.

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Bamford said that artists see the effects of inflation and increased expenses, so they try to make sure that people can afford to come to their shows.

“We’re pretty mindful as to where we price out of tickets so that, you know, everybody can come in,” Bamford said. “Our fan base is, you know, eight years old to 89 years old. So we have a lot of families that come out to our shows, so we make sure that the families can afford it.”

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He said that small events are doing comparatively better than the bigger events that were going on for years but now with the price of fuel and everything else rising, people are hesitant to get back out and spend money.

“You have got to be cognizant of people and what they can afford,” Bamford said. “For sure, the bigger shows are seeing a decrease, but not drastically. It’s still good. They might take a couple of years to come back.”

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Even the usually well-attended Saskatchewan Roughriders games are down on average by about 5,000 fans per game compared with 2019.

On the other side of the coin, there are groups like Moose Jaw’s River Street Promotions, which threw its first large concert event in the summer of 2021.

It now has its concert series “Homestand 22” coming up in September and while admitting expenses have shot up a bit this year, it said it is seeing promising ticket sales.

Whichever way you slice it, there is no shortage of events around the province this summer. If that’s the new normal, then hopefully there is something for everyone to enjoy.

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